Integrative Improvement Blog

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Standard work the Big Mac way

Standard work the Big Mac way

If one thinks of McDonald’s and what they have achieved through standardisation (their flagship Big Mac burger is prepared in a standardised way in more than 34 000 restaurants), it is possible to understand how, by reducing variation in everything they do, they consistently achieve successful outcomes. Little wonder then that in 1986, the UK publication The Economist invented the Big Mac Index as an informal metric of indicating the cost of living and the value of local currencies across the world.

Although McDonald’s is a restaurant chain, it functions much like a factory. Labour is supported by a deep source of technological innovation, such as vacuum packing, exceptional preservatives, deep freezing, vibrant artificial flavours, and high-speed microwaves. Workers assemble specific parts at great speed to deliver dependable and replicable products. Sounding not unlike Henry Ford from a century earlier, former CEO James Skinner remarked in 2010 that, “McDonald’s doesn’t put something on the menu until it can be produced at the speed of McDonald’s.”

As illustrated by the fast food chain, standardised work has long been an accepted concept at an operational level. It is seen as an important aspect of achieving consistent and high-quality performance, and strongly contributes to the elimination of wasteful activities. Other aspects such as quality and safety also benefit significantly.

Leader standard work

So if the concept of standardisation is accepted as fundamentally important to operations management, it logically follows that there should be some applicability at a management level as well. As a leader, you may argue that every day is different and that standardisation will hinder your ability to solve a crisis, but the logic is that standardisation is precisely what prevents crises from recurring. It assists a leader to focus on the right things to eliminate waste and non-value-adding activities. Standard work or Leader Standard Work (LSW) as it’s referred to in Lean circles, is therefore applicable to all levels of leadership – even though the proportion of standardised work as a percentage of total time reduces higher up the corporate ladder.

LSW enables leaders to convert the principles of Lean thinking into daily practice and provides a baseline for ongoing improvement of the management system. It requires a completely different mindset that involves day-to-day and hour-to-hour management, some of which do not happen from the comfort of the office. It renders the focus on process in daily practices and routines, and creates the structure to drive value-added actions, identify and remove barriers, and improve and audit processes.

A practical approach, normally applied to process level standardised work is to categorise any element of work into one of three categories:

  1. Value-adding
  2. Not value-adding but necessary
  3. Waste

The objective is to improve the focus on the first category, to keep on reducing the second category and to eliminate the third category over time.

In the case of a first line supervisor, LSW involves having a daily plan of what the leader’s key duties are. Those might specify, for example, at least three gemba walks and dialogue with each person in the area each day. As we go up the ladder, the plan could become weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc., depending on the level in the organisation. For example, a plant manager might commit to a daily gemba walk to touch base with the value stream managers, supervisors and a few hourly associates in each area – just to understand how the plant is running each day, what the issues are and to be visible to everyone.


Process stabilisation

While standardised work in operations involves takt time, work content and work-in-process inventory, LSW involves developing a system to ensure that leaders spend their time in a way that adds most value to the organisation. And while there are many aspects to this, a key one is redirecting management effort to the only activity that produces value – the process. It is only when a process is stable that improvement can begin to take place.

This focus on process by leaders enables the behaviour of solving problems as they become visible, and standardisation should be part of an ongoing problem-solving activity. A process focus typically involves six steps:

  1. Focus on the process.
  2. Stabilise the process.
  3. Standardise the process.
  4. Improve by exposing problems.
  5. Eliminate problems.
  6. Repeat the cycle.

It is important to note that LSW is not simply about standardising leadership tasks. Successful implementation of LSW ensures that leaders are focused not only on results, but on the processes involved in achieving the end result. As a leader, it is important that you see the process with your own eyes and not rely on feedback from others.

By shifting the leadership mindset from one of issuing commands, directing and solving problems for teams, to one of leading by empowering teams to solve problems for themselves, leaders can spend their time more efficiently. And if you’re already using a formal system, take a few minutes to think about it – and decide if you’re getting the value your people and your business need from your leader standard work.

The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.


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